Eat real food


January 19, 2010 by 8junebugs

Have you read Omnivore’s Dilemma? Have you seen Food, Inc.? Did it make you want to puke your 80% corn-based guts out?

Well, hang onto your silverware, kids, because there’s further evidence that being a hippy might just save your life. Or at least your liver.

Years ago, Monsanto successfully went the way of vertical integration. They developed a weed killer (RoundUp) and seeds (corn and soy) that could withstand the chemical. A lot of people got all pissed off about genetically modified Frankenfoods. Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s took a stand and refused to carry GMOs, and the organic food movement started its stratospheric rise among populations that could afford the choice.

Generally speaking, though, Monsanto had the cash and the contacts to stay ahead of the game and RoundUp and the genetically modified seeds resistant to it stayed on the market. Monsanto insisted that they’d fully tested RoundUp and found it to be a perfectly safe chemical that dealt in the plant world and was therefore safe for animals (read: you). However, they refused to share their testing data. They’ve lost some lawsuits, and now their testing data and results are coming to light and being closely examined by researchers with nothing to gain (via Shakesville).

Worrisome fact #1:

They used a sample size of 10 rats per group. Just 10. I know I’m a nerd who’s been buried in research studies for seven months, but even the least nerdy, most uninterested person can recognize ABSURDLY small samples. They should be criminally small, considering the global impact of the decision made based on this “research.”

Disregarding absolute numbers, we use rats in testing mainly because we can use a lot of them. A sample size of 10 humans isn’t even kosher, but would have been easier to understand than 10 rats. This is just stupid-sloppy, testing-wise. They could have had a more robust study by simply taking a field trip to local pet stores.

(And don’t anyone get on me about animal testing. I’ve kept rats, and I would have sacrificed every last one of them for safer industrial food practices.)

Worrisome fact #2:

The study was further effed up because the control group wasn’t a proper control group. The researchers “introduced unnecessary sources of variability…which considerably unbalance[d] the experimental design.” You can’t effectively judge the effect of something compared to something else when the something else is false.

Worrisome fact #3 (The Worrisomest):

Using a more robust methodology, the results are drastically different and indicate the following:

  1. “…[A]nalysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent.” The side effects also tended to chronic problems, not the acute poisoning for which Monsanto’s researchers tested.
  2. “Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver. … Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system.” And: “[O]ur data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity…”
  3. “In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.”
  4. “[Pesticide residue associated with their particular GM event] have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown.” We tend to make assumptions about how animal bodies will or will not process plant-related stuff, and we tend to be wrong…or our bodies adapt in ways we don’t expect.
  5. “This physiological state is indicative of a pre-diabetic profile,” referring to female rats in one of the feeding trials that shows “increases in circulating glucose and triglyceride levels, with liver function parameters disrupted together with a slight increase in total body weight.” To wit: Maybe it’s not just the amount of high-fructose corn syrup we’re ingesting, but also the chemicals that come with it that are padding the rosters at the doctor’s office.

I know most of these are from the abstract, but that’s where researchers veer nearest common English.  Check out the full study if you like — there’s a lot more there than what I’ve noted here. In plain English, though? The research was crap, Monsanto did everything they could to hide it, and Washington allowed Monsanto to profit wildly without real regulation of the chemicals Monsanto was introducing into the food chain.

So, what does this mean?

Maybe nothing, for several reasons.

The impact of the industrial food complex is coming under scrutiny, thanks to loud-mouthed advocates and the White House garden. The more people speak up, the better — little has shaken our faith in our food since Sinclair wrote The Jungle, and Pollan and his peers are attempting to do the same thing. More attention means more letters to Congress and more people making different choices in the grocery store — legislation and money are the way to get Monsanto (and Tyson, and Con-Agra…) to clean up or close down.

If you’re already concerned about HFCS and CAFOs and genetically modified food, you’re probably already avoiding — or trying to avoid — many of the foods that contain enough GMO corn to put you at risk for long-term health issues. What you do consume may be unavoidable — even if you don’t eat McDonalds hamburgers because the beef comes from mistreated cows that eat GMO corn, you might still wind up eating spinach that’s been watered by a stream carrying manure from those cows. It is, in a word, everywhere. If it worries you (and it worries me), your best option is still to know where your food comes from and to eat whole foods instead of “food products.”

If you can’t afford to make the choice…don’t. People without the means to choose between “affordable” and “healthy” — and that list grows with every percentage point on the unemployment chart — are going to get the shaft, especially if this puts even more of a premium on simple, sustainably produced food. (That there’s a premium on healthy food at all in a first-world country says a lot, though, doesn’t it?) You can feed your kids more from the Dollar Menu than from the produce aisle, and “enough edible food” trumps “food raised humanely, grown sustainably, and in line with your politics and lifestyle.”

The more extreme version of this last issue is that Monsanto and the farmers in its grasp are always trying to find ways to grow larger and more reliable crops, right? And those methods and products have made their way around the world. If Monsanto goes out of business or stops producing the corn seeds (for example) that third-world countries rely on to feed poverty-stricken populations, then what? Especially if there’s no financial incentive to replace the seeds and processes with safer, chemical-free options? Or if those options are prohibitively expensive? If the choice is between no food at all and food that keeps you alive but may have long-term consequences, which would you choose? Do you have a choice? Should a country with a Starbucks on every corner make the choice for you?

More questions than answers… I know less about that last point than about the rest — I do not know how to feed the world. (If I did, I’d totally be in the wrong business.) For now, I know how to cook and bake and grow some stuff, and how to spend my money on businesses that don’t make me sick, physically or emotionally. I know how to read a label and write to my representatives to tell them that real regulation is in order for the sake of the nation’s immediate and long-term health.

And? I know that there’s no reason to expect that a multinational company gives a damn about my liver or kidneys.


2 thoughts on “Eat real food

  1. statia says:

    Oh God. Food Inc. made me want to punch America in the face. We generally don’t eat like that (I say generally, because we DO go out to eat once a week, I’m not sure I can give up my pizza or weekly treat. I suppose moderation and all that), but it still made me sick to watch it.

    And there is nothing that will get my husband more riled up than the topic of Monsanto. Except maybe religion. But I’m betting Monsanto is worse.

    What makes me so irate is that they purposely make it so that it’s cheaper to buy processed crap than it is to buy wholesome organic food. And that’s sad. It makes our society sad. We’re supposed to be the most powerful country in the world, and we use it to control the people into eating unhealthy food. It’s so messed up.

    • 8junebugs says:

      Oh, pizza…pizza’s a full-time craving for me. I’m pretty lucky on the eating-out front, though — my neighborhood’s full of restaurants that lean toward locavore practices, so they do the work for me. All I have to do is budget.

      We’re the most powerful country, but it’s apparently easier to declare war on a soveign nation and topple its leader than to effectively regulate a couple of companies and stop them from poisoning people.

      Yeah, I still don’t get that.

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